'It ain't over', port union warns

By Paul Harper, Hayden Donnell, APNZ

Port workers in Auckland have been told hundreds of their jobs will be outsourced. Photo / Getty Images
Port workers in Auckland have been told hundreds of their jobs will be outsourced. Photo / Getty Images

Striking workers have reacted with disgust at the Ports of Auckland's announcement that almost 300 workers will be made redundant and will contract out the work.

However, this was not the end of industrial action, they say.

"We're absolutely gutted. We believe 292 are going to be made redundant,'' said union Local 13 executive James Kirkham, speaking from the picket line at the port this morning.

The decision would have a flow-on effect for dairy owners and other businesses that use the ports, as well as "Auckland city as a whole'', he said.

Fellow Local 13 spokesman Russell Mayn agreed, saying the job losses would also have a devastating effect on the families involved.

"It's desperate times. They're all families with mortgages, children, commitments to education.

"At the moment you can look out onto a wharf that's got no ships in it. God knows what they're losing a week.''

He said workers had no choice but to strike after attempts to negotiate for a collective agreement failed.

The union "has a strategy'', said Mr Mayn. He would not reveal what it was but said the industrial action was far from over.

"It ain't going away. We're just warming up.''

Mayor 'can't intervene'

Union officials are challenging Auckland Mayor Len Brown to intervene on behalf of 292 port workers who have been sacked.

But Mr Brown is refusing to take a side in the industrial dispute between the company and union members - saying he is working only for the "people of Auckland".

Maritime Union national president Garry Parsloe said the announcement "flies in the face of public opinion".

He called on Mr Brown to stop the redundancies.

"His legacy cannot be that he stood by while these workers were treated in this way."

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly joined the call for Mr Brown to take a side in the dispute.

"Len Brown needs to clarify - does he support the dismissal of these workers or not."

Mr Brown said he was disappointed with both Ports of Auckland and the Maritime Union and concerned at the disruption the industrial dispute was causing at the port.

However, legislation prevented him from intervening to resolve the dispute, he said.

"I am on only one side in this dispute. The people of Auckland. We deserve a port that is competitive, a decent return for rate payers and a settlement that is sustainable."

"My powers to intervene in this dispute are severely limited by legislation surrounding the port. However the people of Auckland can be confident that I am in constant contact with both parties in the dispute and they are aware of my concerns about the consequences for Auckland as a whole and the families directly involved."

Ports of Auckland Limited was formed in 1988 and is today 100% owned by Auckland Council Investments Limited, a council controlled investment company.

Political reaction

Labour said the decision would cost millions of dollars in redundancy payments and would have a huge effect on the workers and their families, Auckland ratepayers and businesses and on the country as a whole, all of whom would be left to ``pick up the tab''.

"I'd like to see the Auckland Council step up its efforts to help resolve what has become a hugely damaging dispute,'' Labour leader David Shearer said.
Green Party co-leader Dr Russel Norman called the decision appalling.

"The Government's legislative changes in the last term have set the scene for employers such as the Ports of Auckland to clamp down hard on workers and unions.

"John Key should realise that we will never catch Australia by driving down New Zealand wages and working conditions. We will just make New Zealand workers poorer.

He called for Mr Brown to take a stand in supporting the workers who voted for him.

Prime Minister John Key said the Government did not intervene in industrial disputes unless it was a party to the dispute or had been asked to mediate.

The port would argue that the steps it was taking would ensure its economic viability, he said.

Port explains decision

Ports of Auckland said the decision to introduce "competitive stevedoring " was partly the result of the impact of long running industrial action on its business.

Redundancies would begin later next week, with striking staff encouraged to apply for new positions, he said.

"This decision has not been made lightly, but we believe it is vital to ensuring a successful and sustainable future for the Port, including protecting jobs over the long term," he said.

Ports of Auckland Chairman Richard Pearson said the company's priority was to win back lost business.

"This decision will reassure the wider market and customers that we plan to achieve a sustainable lift in the port's competitiveness as soon as possible.

"We have our sights set high. Our ultimate goal is to become not just New Zealand's most efficient and productive container port, but a leader in the Asia Pacific region."

Mr Parsloe said workers were gutted by the move.

"Port management wants to take away job security from 300 ordinary working families."

"There is no basis for this proposal. We're already providing flexibility and have offered even more in negotiations with the Ports."

He said workers do not accept their jobs should be casualised.

"We cannot let Ports of Auckland get away with this move. This is by no means the end of our campaign for secure work," he said.

Ms Kelly said the move was aimed at forcing workers to change their hours of work and reduce their job security.

"It is an outrageous approach to bargaining for the port management to say - accept every change we want in the collective agreement or we will sack all of you and replace you with contracted labour."

Labour: redundancy won't feed workers' families

Labour Party employment relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton said it was an "absolute certainty" the redundancy decision would leave families in poverty.

She said workers who had been ardently in support of strike action could be weeded out of the new workforce.

"They start with a black spot.

"They'll get a redundancy but that's not going to feed their families for long. They will be having to line up at Work and Income with so many other New Zealanders."

She said today's decision raised questions about whether Ports of Auckland was negotiating in good faith with the Maritime Union.

"There has been evidence of a desire to have [the Maritime Union] out of Ports of Auckland and this is one way to do it.

"When you're allegedly negotiating in good faith and at the same time going through the process of contracting out, that raises questions. I understand that's a matter for the courts and there will be some questions around that."

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